10Tec Help Viewer for MSHC files

10Tec Help Viewer is a lightweight portable viewer for MSHC files on the Windows platform. It allows you to open MSHC files, display their hierarchical table of contents, search for topics using the index, and create bookmarks for favorite topics. 10Tec Help Viewer can be also used to implement help systems in end-user applications:

10Tec Help Viewer for MSHC files

History and reasons for creation

MSHC, which stands for Microsoft Help Container, is the latest format of help files developed by Microsoft. Files of this format are specific zip archives with the .mshc extension. They contain help topics in the HTML format with added helper tags, such as keywords and posittion in the table of contents (see Microsoft Help Viewer SDK for details). MSHC help files are designated mainly for integration into the Microsoft Help Viewer application distributed with Microsoft Visual Studio.

Developers can create help files for end-user applications in this modern format. Numerous help authoring tools automate this process. However, there is one significant problem – viewing of MSHC files. If you want to view an MSHC help file the traditional way, you must install Microsoft Visual Studio with Microsoft Help Viewer. There is an alternative H3Viewer for viewing MSHC files developed by the Helpware Group, but it also requires the help API files installed with Visual Studio 2010. All this makes hardly possible use of the MSHC format for help systems in the real world.

10Tec Help Viewer was originally conceived as a Microsoft Help Viewer alternative that can work independently from Microsoft Visual Studio. We needed such a tool to provide the customers of our WinForms grid control, iGrid.NET, with the ability to use the product's electronic documentation in the MSHC format under any circumstances. The fact is that the latest releases of Visual Studio do not install Micorsoft Help Viewer by default. But even after installing this optional component, the developer must switch the help preference from online content to local help to view MSHC files. This led to inability to access Microsoft’s online documentation from Visual Studio IDE, which made developers very unhappy.

Now we can provide a viable solution to view MSHC files. 10Tec Help Viewer is a ready-to-run application that does not depend on Microsoft Visual Studio. The only system requirement is the .NET Framework of the version 4.7.2 or 4.8, which comes with all latest versions of Windows starting from Windows 7.

Key features

The interface of 10Tec Help Viewer is modelled on the interface of Microsoft Help Viewer and many help viewers for other formats, including the Windows built-in CHM viewer. It is a single-window application with the toolbar at the top, the navigation pane at the left, and the topic browser pane in the remaining space. Most keyboard shortcuts from Microsoft Help Viewer also work in 10Tec Help Viewer.

10Tec Help Viewer supports Windows visual styles and high-resolution screens. You can also adjust interface elements for traditional displays with the 96dpi resolution – for example, increase the image size in the toolbar and customize the interface font. These and other settings related to the application behavior are available for changing with the configuration file. The interface of 10Tec Help Viewer can be localized as well.

The application infrastructure has evolved since the first version. Now this utility can be used to view not only a wide reach of MSHC help files, but the contents of CHM files after their conversion to the MSHC format.

10Tec Help Viewer supports automation through the command-line interface. You can open a given help file and a given topic using command files. This feature is used to build help systems in end-user applications. We exploit it in the Visual Studio extensions to provide context-sensitive help for iGrid.NET in Visual Studio IDE.

It is noteworthy that the application makes extensive use of 10Tec iGrid.NET itself in its interface: for the hierarchical table of contents on the Contents tab, for the filterable index on the Index tab, and for the multi-book list of favorite topics on the Favorites tab. As such, 10Tec Help Viewer is a good demonstration of the iGrid.NET features in a real-world application.

The application is free for personal use.

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